Ryan Callahan’s motor is running as soon as he steps on the ice. Tonight however, his patience helped eke out a 1-0 victory for the Rangers.
The fifth straight win for the Blueshirts was far but assured after a scoreless duel between goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Florida’s Tomas Vokoun through two periods at Madison Square Garden.
Enter Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, the Rangers’ most effective line in the fast few weeks.
“Artie kept the puck in his feet there, battled with it for a bit and let me come in front and get position,” at the lower edge of the right circle, said Callahan, recounting the game-winner at 7:49 of the third period. “I grabbed it, turned and looked at Vokoun and he was pretty square with me. I saw Dubi coming down the slot and I’m just trying to buy as much time as possible without totally giving away that I’m passing it to him, for him to get space there.”
Dubinsky redirected the short feed to finally beat Vokoun, who finished with 32 saves. At the other end, Lundqvist was perfect, turning away all 22 shots for his league-leading 10th shutout of the season, which tied his career high in 2007-08.
“We feel like we’re a line that needs to produce,” said Callahan, who registered his 47th point on Dubinsky’s 22nd goal. “We put pressure on ourselves not only to bring energy and play well defensively, but put points on the board to win games.” And they are doing just that: Dubinsky’s goal was his third in six games; Callahan has 14 points in the last eight games, and Anisimov has four goals and six assists in those eight, of which the Rangers have won seven to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.
“They came up empty a number of times, but they grinded,” said coach John Tortorella. “To beat Vokoun tonight was going to have to be a play like that, of misdirection and some patience…It was very important to win a game like that at this time of year. These are tough games when you come off an emotional win,” he said, referring to the third-period rally to defeat Pittsburgh on the road Sunday.
With eight games to play, the seventh-place Rangers (40-30-4, for 84 points) stayed three points ahead of the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres, six clear of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes and three behind Montreal.
Tortorella warned the Rangers about a letdown against the 13th place Panthers. While they didn’t score several goals, the Rangers were certainly disciplined. The Panthers never had a man-advantage: It was the first time the Blueshirts had not been assessed a penalty since Jan. 9, 2009 against the Sabres.
Some of the defensive effort, without All-Star Marc Staal, sidelined with an undisclosed injury, may have derived from an extra incentive provided by Bryan McCabe, who was traded by the Panthers on Feb. 28.
“We asked Caber for some information on the team, and he put some money on the board”----a long-standing practice when a player faces his old team for the first time. “Am I allowed to say that?” he asked with a smile.
Lundqvist, who made his 18th consecutive start, was smiling as well. “You need a great team in front of you and some luck along the way. I’ve had both right now.”